Under the Skin

Under the Skin

The situation of African Americans is so complex that one is tempted to remark that chaos theoreticians are needed to diagnose it. For instance, Professor John J. DiIulio of Princeton, echoing data from Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom’s America in Black and White, deems the plight of the approximately one-quarter of the total black population that subsists in the inner-city slums “morally unbearable,” yet points out that in the past six years black home-ownership has been increasing at about twice the rate of white home-ownership. And although the percentage of black households below the official poverty line is double the percentage of all U.S. households, the 28.4 percent figure is nevertheless the lowest since statistics were first kept, in 1955. Indeed, the annual personal income of U.S. blacks has increased steadily since 1980. But any note of optimism that might be drawn from this last statistic should be qualified by the distinction, made by David Shipler in his new book, that the crucial economic disparity between the races is not the gap in income but in the gap in family net worth—“the savings and property that represent a cumulative history spanning generations.” The median net worth today for whites is $43,000, for blacks $3,700.

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